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Myanmar military chief on goodwill visit to India

world Updated: Jul 25, 2010 12:28 IST
DPA
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Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Than Shwe departed on Sunday for a goodwill visit to India at the invitation of the Indian president, officials confirmed.

Than Shwe departed Naypyitaw International Airport for a five-day official visit as guest of President Pratibha Patil, government officials in the military's capital said.

Than Shwe heads the State Peace and Development Council, as Myanmar's junta styles itself. He last visited India in October 2004.

India has cultivated close diplomatic ties with military-run Myanmar over the past decade to pursue economic and security interests and counterbalance China's growing clout in the country, which sits between the two Asian giants.

Myanmar government sources said Than Shwe's visit was "religious in nature", although it would include discussions on border security and economic cooperation.

Myanmar, a former British colony with close economic ties to India prior to independence in 1948, has been under military rule since 1962.

The current regime is deemed a pariah by Western democracies for its refusal to free opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest, and reluctance to introduce democratic reforms.

India, by contrast, is deemed Asia's most dynamic democracy.

Myanmar's junta is expected to soon announce a date for a general election this year.

The anticipated polls have already been condemned by Western democracies for excluding Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.

Myanmar's new constitution assures the military can control an elected legislature through its veto power in the Senate, where one-quarter of the seats are to be appointees by the military.

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